Browsing 'hassad food' News

Politician calls for scrutiny of Qatar agricultural firm in Australia

An Australian senator has voiced concerns about reports that Hassad Australia – a subsidiary of Qatar state-backed firm Hassad Food – has failed to turn a profit since launching in 2010, saying it warrants an inspection by his country’s Foreign Investment Review Board, according to the Australian Financial Review.

Liberal Bill Heffernan was quoted this week as saying, “We welcome foreign investment, as long as it is done on a level playing field.” Hassad Australia stated in 2014 that it was initially established to boost Qatar’s food security, but that its business requirements have changed “to a totally commercial outcome.”

Editor’s note: Hassad Australia subsequently defended its financial record in an interview with the Australian Financial Review.

Zulal Oasis

Hassad Food

Zulal Oasis

Qatar is aiming to grow up to 70 percent of its own vegetables by 2023 thanks to the launch of a new farming system that needs no soil and which recycles irrigation water, according to state investment company Hassad Food.

For the last two years, Qatar’s food and livestock investor has been piloting a hydroponics project to help make the arid state more self-sufficient in fresh produce.

In partnership with Oasis Agrotechnology, a consortium led by Spain’s Primalor Group, Hassad Food set up Zulal Oasis on a farm in Al Shahaniyah, west of Doha and trialled the project by growing tomatoes in greenhouses, which have been adapted to the dry and hot local weather conditions.

Zulal Oasis

Hassad Food

Zulal Oasis

The greenhouses use Primaflor’s New Growing System technology, which has no soil or substrate materials and has a Dry Air Cooling System that doesn’t use water and provides no moisture.

It is “the most advanced hydroponic system in the world,” Hassad Food said in a statement.

The efficiency of the new system will enable Qatar to become between 50 and 70 percent self-sufficient in the production of vegetables by 2023, a Hassad Food spokesperson told Doha News.

As a desert nation with a growing population, Qatar imports the vast majority of its food. However, this leaves it vulnerable to fluctuations in global prices and supply disruption.

Authorities have been trying to tackle the state’s food security through a number of projects aimed at boosting production at home and abroad, to help Qatar become more self-sufficient.

Water-less system

Hassad Food’s Chairman and Managing Director Nasser Mohamed Al Hajri said the pilot project had been “a great success” and adapted well to Qatar’s harsh growing conditions.

“It also exceeded expectations regarding the yield and quality, producing more than 37 kilograms per sqm of highest quality European Standard,” he said.

In addition to growing vegetables, the system can also be used for fruit and flower production.

Describing the technology as “a long-term sustainable production model,” Al Hajri said it could produce high-grade crops throughout the year, even during the scorching desert summers.

Zulal Oasis

Hassad Food

Zulal Oasis

The dry cooling technology is described as an automated smart control system that controls the temperature inside the greenhouses, regardless of the weather outside, eliminating many of the climate challenges farmers in this region face such as high humidity, heat and a lack of groundwater.

Hassad Food said the Zulal Oasis system is cost-effective for farmers, as production costs would be lower than importing the same quality of fresh produce.

And it enables farmers to diversify the crops they grow according to local demand.

Zulal Oasis

Hassad Food

Zulal Oasis

In addition to the greenhouses, crops can also be planted outdoors using the hydroponic technology, although the growing season is limited to the cooler months.

Produce which could grow well under cover includes peppers (capsicums), strawberries, herbs and flowers in addition to tomatoes.

Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, corn, courgette (zucchini), mangoes and citrus fruit would be suited to being grown using the system outdoors, Qatar Tribune said.

Investors

Hassad Food is in talks on sharing its technology with investors in Saudi Arabia and Oman, Bloomberg quotes Zulal Oasis Director Hamad Hadi Al Hajri as saying.

And the technology is now being licensed for local farmers to use, with an open day planned at the research site on Thursday.

The system is expected to be used on up to 1,000 hectares of land by 2023. The Ministry of Economy and Commerce will start floating tenders for the first 400 hectares of land by the end of this year, with the remainder to follow by an undisclosed date, Qatar Tribune reports.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Omar Chatriwala / Doha News

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Qatar has already increase the amount of food grown at home, particularly dates, cucumbers and green peppers, in part due to an expansion in cultivated land since 2009.

However, the largest increase by far has been in fodder for livestock, which coincided with a dramatic jump in red meat and dairy product production, according to the latest agricultural report from the Ministry of Development Planning and Statistics (MDPS) released in May this year.

A subsidiary of sovereign wealth fund Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), Hassad Food has been making investments and buying up land abroad to help address the state’s food production shortfall.

It also has the Roza Hassad flower production facilities in Al Shehaniya, which were opened by the Emir in 2012 and use hydroponics to grow up to 20,000 flowers daily in 100 varieties.

Thoughts?

They (Hassad Food) are doing some revolutionary smart business. But we have to ask the question “does that equate to food security?”

Jonathan Smith, Senior Adviser at the Qatar National Food Security Programme, (QNFSP) on Hassad Food’s claim to be capable of meeting 60 percent of Qatar’s food and livestock demands.

One of the government’s top advisors on food security has cast some doubt on claims made by Hassad Food, the agricultural investment arm of Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund, that it can provide much of the country’s nutritional needs by investing in food production companies around the world.

Jonathan Smith, a Senior Adviser at the Qatar National Food Security Programme, has told the Peninsula that although Hassad Food’s activities are “good business,” he doesn’t believe they amount to total food security for Qatar:

“There are differences in investments that are being made for commercial reasons and investments being made for strategic reasons.”

Qatar currently imports 90 percent of its food, making it extremely vulnerable to price and supply volatility worldwide.

Food security plan

Smith reveals that Qatar’s National Plan for Food Security should be presented to the Emir in the next couple of months.

Three years in the making, it’s been put together by a team of international experts who’ve conducted field trips in 80 different countries.

Instead of investing in foreign farm land, the plan aims to bolster Qatar’s native agricultural industry, boosting it from its current capacity of 8 percent to a point where it can provide 40-60 percent of the country’s food needs. 

The plan also includes suggestions of how Qatar can protect itself from food price volatility, how it can maintain the nutritional quality of its produce, and how its farms can become successful, profitable businesses, Smith says. 

He has also called for new desalination plants to be built, dedicated entirely to the agricultural sector. He believes that an inadequate supply of water is the primary problem the country’s farmers face.

Thoughts?

Credit: Photo by Johnk57